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Jeepney strike leader arrested; Poe assails move

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AUTHORITIES arrested transport leader George San Mateo of the Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide at the Quezon City Hall of Justice after he arrived to post bail for violating the Public Service Law on Tuesday.

San Mateo was detained at the Quezon City Police District’s Station 10 in Kamuning.

ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio and Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao, along with Piston members, accompanied San Mateo to post a P4,000 bail before the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court’s Branch 43, but police prevented San Mateo from proceeding to the court.

Misael Melinas of the No to Jeepney Phaseout Coalition slammed the court’s issuance of an arrest warrant on San Mateo.

Assistant City Prosecutor Marvelous Madamda of the Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office recommended the filing of the case before the Metropolitan Trial Court and a bail of P4,000.

After his temporary detention at Station 10, San Mateo was allowed to post a bail before the Acting Executive Judge Joel Lopena.

An arraignment is set on Jan. 24, 2018.

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board filed the case against San Mateo for “knowingly and willfully instructed members of Piaron to conduct a nationwide strike in February 2017 to protest the public utility vehicle modernization program.”

The Palace expressed satisfaction over San Mateo’s arrest, saying the right to free expression and protest of jeepney driers are limited when they are holders of a certificate of public convenience.

Palace Spokesman Harry Roque said jeepney drivers and operators should directly engage with the relevant government bodies instead of holding “illegal” transport strikes.

“The freedom of expression and right to peaceful assembly is guaranteed by the Constitution, subject to limitations set by law. And one [limitation] is, if you’re a holder of a certificate of public convenience, you can’t engage in a transport strike,” Roque said.

“They should [have a] dialogue with government. They don’t need to cause inconvenience,” he added, noting that the Public Service Act makes it unlawful for public service operators to “withhold or refuse any service which can reasonably be demanded and furnished.”

The charge sheet said San Mateo knowingly and willfully instructed members of Piston to conduct a nationwide strike.

The case stemmed from the nationwide strike that Piston and other transport groups conducted in February 2017 to protest the PUV Modernization Program.

Roque said that there is an exception to the Bill of Rights when the acts of a person, specifically a provider of public service, will affect the public.

“Why do you have a certificate of public convenience? To render a service necessary to the public… But if you will be a tool to inconvenience the public, that’s a violation of the trust [given to] you by the state,” Roque said.

The PUV Modernization Program, which was revealed in June 2017, aims to phase out some 270,000 PUVs that are over 15 years old and replace these with vehicles with “low-carbon and low-emission technology.”

But Senator Grace Poe, chairman of the Senate committee on public services, said the government is not yet ready to carry out the program, which some jeepney groups have opposed, citing the high cost of the new vehicles.

In an interview on radio dzMM, Poe said the government still needs to spend P415 billion for the full implementation of the program.

“This means that we in the government are also not ready for the rollout of such a massive program,” she said in Filipino.

She urged the government to consider launching the modernization program in select cities first.

She also said the timing of the arrest of San Mateo was suspect, and cast doubt on the intent of the complainant.

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